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It all started as a friendly competition. But this result will have no losers, with the Backside Learning Center assured of gaining $200,000 — and possibly $400,000 — based on the results of Saturday’s 148th Kentucky Derby.

Back in January, long-time BLC supporter and horse owner “Bourbon Brook” Smith placed a $10,000 Kentucky Derby Future Wager bet on Tiz the Bomb. That bet committed all potential Derby winnings to the Backside Learning Center, a non-profit organization based on the backside of Churchill Downs racetrack. Tiz the Bomb went off at 10-1 odds in the second Derby Future Wager Pool, with a Derby victory Saturday reaping $114,000.

Smith’s wager was a friendly challenge to Texas-based businessman and famed sports bettor “Mattress Mack” Jim McIngvale’s Future Wager bet for the same amount on Smile Happy, who is a son of McIngvale’s 2015 champion sprinter and current Claiborne Farm stallion Runhappy. Both Tiz the Bomb and Smile Happy are trained by Kenny McPeek. The BLC used Smith’s largesse as an opportunity to reach out to McIngvale, the Houston furniture magnate as famous for his philanthropy as he is his huge Gallery Furniture promotions tied to the outcome of famous sporting events. 

“We wanted to engage him in our important mission of providing support and resources to the entire community of track workers and their families,” said Sherry Stanley, executive director of the BLC. “McIngvale’s been a significant supporter of equine workers all over the country in the past. He was immediately interested in connecting with the BLC. We are thrilled to have Jim as a new high-profile advocate for our work.”

“Mattress Mack” appeared as a special guest at the BLC’S “Thoroughbred Owners’ Derby Handicapping Social”, held April 14 at the downtown Louisville Thoroughbred Society. McIngvale announced at the event that if the Kentucky Derby favorite or Smile Happy were to win America’s greatest horse race, he would donate $200,000 to the Backside Learning Center to sponsor summer camp experiences for children of backside workers. 

“The backside has helped so many people that put their heart and soul into the horse-racing business,” McIngvale said. “If we can bring in money, resources and networks, we can help the backbone of the horse-racing industry—which are these hardworking people who are taking care of the animals 24/7.”

In another twist, Smith upped his ante by announcing that if any horse other than the favorite or Smile Happy win, he will make his own donation of $200,000. 

But wait! There’s more! Louisville’s Mike Mackin, at the BLC fundraiser at the Louisville Thoroughbred Society, jumped in and said Smile Happy’s owners will pitch in another $200,000 if their colt prevails. Mackin and his four siblings campaign Smile Happy in the name of the family’s Lucky Seven Stable.

“Mack said he’d give the Backside Learning Center $200,000 if Smile Happy won and I said we’d match it,” Mackin said. “I’m just starting to learn about the Backside Learning Center. But from what I’ve learned, they are doing great work in helping the people who care for our horses.”

Smith has been heavily involved within the BLC’s “Purses for a Purpose” initiative, which was the focus of the event. Within this program, horse owners have the opportunity to partner with the organization and donate a portion of their horses’ winnings to the BLC.

“The Purses for a Purpose program is super simple,” Smith said. “If owners contribute just 1 percent, 2 percent of their purses, it can change a lot of people’s lives.” Smith backed up his words, presenting a check for $6,800 to the Backside Learning Center, which was 4 percent of his horses’ total winnings during the winter. 

Stanley said the BLC staff is “ecstatic to have this support from such influential industry leaders. Being guaranteed $200,000 — with the potential to have that doubled — is a game-changer for a non-profit.

“We cheer for all the Derby horses, but we’ll really be smiling happy if the Mackins’ horse wins,” she said.

A non-profit organization located on the backside of Churchill Downs, the BLC focuses on providing support and resources in a safe, welcoming environment for the diverse community of racetrack workers and their families. With programs centered around educational support for both adults and youth, health and wellness, human services and more, the organization is committed to serving as a community center and a home away from home for the backside community.

For more information on how to become involved with Purses for a Purpose, visit 

https://www.backsidelearningcenter.org/purses-for-a-purpose or see a story TVG aired on the event, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0__LtdHgi5I. More information on the Backside Learning Center is available at www.backsidelearningcenter.org

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